Friday, November 3, 2017

How Twitter (not a President) could start World War III

I work in TV news, an industry that gets a lot of crap (much of it deserved) for ginning up fear to attract attention.

And yet, we seemed to have mostly moved on after something that really is worth being terrified about.

This week we got a legitimately horrifying look at perhaps one of the dumber ways the world could end.

Not with a bang, but with a...



In all, this lasted 11 minutes of our Thursday, briefly sparking all kinds of theories which varied depending on peoples' politics:

"I bet the liberals who run Twitter are trying to censor him!"
"Did he actually delete his account? Oh what a wonderful world it'll be now!"
I wish it was one of those things. I really do.

Because the truth-- at least as Twitter tells it-- is soil-yourself-worthy:

Now at first blush I can see how this explanation would seem hilarious to some people: "Last day on the job and Billy the customer service rep really flipped his bosses the bird on his way out the door!"

And perhaps that's why the general reaction was: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Which makes me think maybe we collectively missed the point of this moment.

The real story is that a low-level employee at a tech company was able to hijack the primary route of communication for THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!

What if someone-- twitter employee or no-- wanted to put words INTO the mouth of the President instead of just screwing with his account for a minute?

One does not have to strain too much to imagine how that could go.

For sake of our little thought experiment, let's say the following two things are true:

  1. It's a year or so in the future and North Korea actually has a working nuclear-armed ICBM that is reliably capable of hitting the United States. Tested, tried, and true.
  2. A tweet appears from the President's @realDonaldTrump account-- complete with the blue little checkmark and everything-- that says something like: "Just left the sit room. Told the generals to take out Rocket Man for good! Special ops in the air!"

What if that tweet stays up for eleven minutes?

What if it stays up for 45 minutes?

What if the White House can't put the President in front of a camera quickly enough to debunk the tweet?

What if they do put him in front of a camera and North Korea doesn't buy it?

I'm sure there are other safeguards. I'm sure there are many things that could be tried to prevent the worst from happening.

But I'm just saying-- I can imagine how this current societal vulnerability of ours could be the ballgame, folks.

I admit, I've jumped a scenario on the extreme end of the spectrum. But again-- this is voice of the PRESIDENT we're talking about. One doesn't have to strain too hard to see how a wayward unauthorized tweet from him could directly lead to loss of life or serious economic damage.

I didn't write this to give you another reason to stay awake at night. I wrote it because we need to think this through.

First of all, companies like Twitter should probably find a way to keep employees from being able to tinker with the accounts of people who have nuclear codes. Like, maybe a C-level employee should get a push alert or something if there's a customer service need for the President's account.

But more importantly, we should rethink whether we want our leaders to talk to us on these platforms as primary form of communication.

I'm on twitter all day when I'm at work and, little blue check boxes notwithstanding-- I really don't ever know with 100 percent certainty what I'm looking at. I don't know it it's real.

I don't really know if the guy trolling me is a local 40-year-old in his mom's basement or a Russian bot any more than I really know what tweets come personally from the President's fingers.

Maybe Donald Trump wrote that tweet. Maybe it was an intern's last day and POTUS left his phone lying in the Mural Room. Maybe it was hacked. Maybe it was a low-level Twitter employee. Who really knows?

My point is, I see the promise of direct access to the people from the candidate's perspective.

President Trump says he wouldn't have that title were it not for the existence of Twitter.

But it's not foolproof.

With that in mind, in an era of distrust of the news media-- ask yourself which is less troublesome: seeing the President say the words into a camera (or quoted by a reporter who heard him directly)-- or looking at some words on a screen next to a blue check mark?

Some words you're pretty sure belong to him.

Pretty sure.

But not certain.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Our EV costs 73% less to drive than our Jeep

The per-mile cost of driving our two cars
To the dismay of internet trolls, I chose to drive my new electric car instead of returning it to the dealership or smashing it for scrap metal. And guess what? It's a HELLUVA lot cheaper to drive than our other car: 72.8 percent cheaper, to be exact.

RELATED: Haters be hatin' on my cheap new EV

I'll do the math on this below so you can see my methodology and update a few more things I've learned driving this car for a month as well.

We recently became the unlikely owners of a Nissan Leaf, thanks to a combination of private incentives and government tax credits in Colorado that slashed the effective pre-tax price of the car to $9,400 in our case. (The $10,000 Xcel customer incentive expires June 30.)

Our electric bills
RELATED: How to get a new EV for under $10,000

The first month's power bill is in: driving this car for my daily commute and around-town errands for the month raised our electric bill about 30 bucks.

The electric portion of our June power bill was $31.61 higher than the average cost from the three months before we started plugging in our car. Helpfully, our billing cycle began the day after we bought the car. And we didn't need to turn on the air conditioning in our house before that billing cycle ended, which make the months pretty good to compare to one another.


In the first month we put about 1,000 miles on the Leaf. We used off-site chargers twice to do about 100 miles of that driving, which means I drove about 900 miles on power that came from the wall outlet in my garage.

The cheap gas near my house runs $2.19 a gallon right now. Our other car (which we love!) is a 2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited that gets 17 miles per gallon. Crunching the numbers to drive 900 miles:
  • Our Jeep Wrangler: $116.07
  • Our Nissan Leaf:     $31.61
Put another way, as cost per mile:
  • Our Jeep Wrangler: 13¢ per mile
  • Our Nissan Leaf:     3.5¢ per mile
In our first month, we saved $84.46 in energy costs by using the EV as our primary commuter and around-town car. That's nearly 73 percent of the amount we'd have spent to drive the Jeep the same number of miles.  In our case, it's a little more than we need to cover the added insurance cost of owning a second car that's brand-new, since we shared one car before.


We are charging the Leaf at home off of the 110v trickle charger cable it came with-- and that's all we really need in a practical sense.

My battery's charge after driving to work.
My commute to work is 6 miles. When I got to work today, I'd used a whopping four percent of my battery, which can be topped back to 100 percent in a matter of minutes, even on a standard wall outlet.

If you aren't draining the battery below 50 percent, you can recharge fully overnight on the trickle cable.

I may put in a 220v charger someday, (they can be found for as little as $300, plus the cost of installing a circuit where you need it) but that would honestly be a luxury purchase.

It would help in limited circumstances to provide flexibility, but for general around-town use, the wall outlet you already have is fine. I use mine to commute and drive from the Sloan Lake area to Centennial regularly and haven't had an issue.


Both plugs work on my car.
Before we decided to pull the trigger, I'd seen several comments online in my research warning that the sales staff at dealerships don't tend to know a lot of detail about the electric cars they sell.

That turned out to be the case for me. I wrote in my original article that we had opted not to pay for the $1,700 upgrade to have a quick DC charge port on our Leaf.

It has one, after all!

The sales rep told us in no uncertain terms that the Leaf we bought did not have the DC charger onboard and that there was no way to upgrade to one after we buy.

I assumed that I had a dummy port under the larger charge cover where that technology would be, but it turns out ours works. It was a pleasant surprise, but still would have been nicer to know what we were getting.

All of which is to say-- know what you're looking for if you go to the dealership.


Colorado bases registration fees on the MSRP of a car, not what you paid.

So even though I got my car for $9,400 pre-tax, I paid the registration fee of a new $33,000 car.

It cost me $782 to register the car, which includes a $50 EV surcharge.

It seems odd for the state to charge a premium to register an electric vehicle whilst simultaneously offering a $5,000 tax break to encourage you to buy one.

The Colorado Department of Revenue pointed me to the state law that creates the $50 annual EV registration fee.

$30 of it goes to the Highway Users Tax Fund, which is still a deal if you think about it. Most people pay into that fund by buying gas in the form of a 22 cent per gallon gas tax.

Using my 900 mile figures above, I'd have paid $11.66 worth of gas tax by driving my Jeep in the first month. Instead, I'm paying $30 directly to that fund for the whole year.

This sticker is required by Colorado law. It does nothing for you.
The other $20 of the annual EV fee goes to a state grant program to subsidize EV charging stations.

You also get a really stupid-looking EV required by law to put in the upper right corner your windshield.

The sticker doesn't do anything magical for you-- you can't use HOV lanes for free or anything like that. (On a related note, the state only allowed 2,000 people to get HOV lane passes for hybrid & electric cars.)

This seemed silly and unnecessary to me, but since the backing of the sticker made it very clear that it was required, I asked the revenue folks to explain why:

I remain skeptical about how helpful this would be in a real emergency.

But then again, I'm not the guy who's going to have to run at a burning pile of lithium ion batteries when stuff goes wrong, so I put the damn sticker in my windshield.

If you'd like to argue with it, argue with your state legislator. I'm off the sticker case for now.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Haters be hatin' on my cheap new electric car

They say "never read the comments," but what fun is that?

I recently bought a new Nissan Leaf, an all-electric car-- even though we set out to buy a used gas car.
Me, having a sad, after realizing the trolls are right.

I managed to get the new electric car for an effective pre-tax price of $9,474.

That sounded a lot better than the used 2015 gas cars I was finding with 30,000+ miles on them for $10,000-$13,000.

As I explained in the story I wrote for 9NEWS, we ended up with the new electric car instead because several incentives made it cheaper: we got a $10,000 discount for Xcel energy customers (only applies to the Leaf,) a $7,500 federal EV tax credit that we won't see until we file next year's return, and a $5,000 state of Colorado EV tax credit that dealers can now apply to the purchase price.

A new Nissan Leaf.
The story contained an entire section on reasons not to buy this car-- essentially that it's not practical for severe weather or road trips. This will be a commuter / around-town car for my family. Our 4-door Jeep Wrangler will serve as our mountain / snow / road trip car.

But that didn't stop haters from hatin'-- on everything from the incentives to the car itself.

I take these concerns seriously, so let's have at a few!

Joel: "Cool have your neighbors pay for your car through their taxes, yep that's so cool NOT buy your own stuff with your own money"

This is my favorite comment because I like to imagine that Joel is an intellectually honest person, who would no doubt have conversations like:

FRIEND 1: "We just had a baby!"
JOEL: "Great. I hope you don't take the child tax credit next year."
FRIEND 1: "Umm, we're really excited..."
JOEL: "Your neighbors shouldn't have to pay for your kids!"


FRIEND 2: "We just bought a new house!"
JOEL: "Did you take out a mortgage?"
FRIEND 2: "Uh... yeah."
JOEL: "Thief! You better not claim the mortgage interest deduction!"

I sincerely hope that Joel has never had a mortgage, child, or student loan-- because that would be awkward.

In all seriousness, the biggest single incentive that applied to my car was a $10,000 credit from the private sector.

I hear the argument about the state and federal tax credits, though. If Joel doesn't like them, he can use my handy guide to lobby his state lawmakers to get rid of it, or call his congresspeople.

Meantime, I live in the current, actual world-- where I want to acquire a vehicle to meet my needs for the least amount of money possible. So I did that.

The credits are available equally to everyone and even if I personally disagreed with tax breaks as sound policy, I'm not going to spend more to buy a used traditional car on principle. I don't think I'm alone on this.

Adam: "A great price, but if you hit a squirrel, you're dead."

I give Adam style points for using a squirrel in his argument. The mental image is hilarious!

Courtesy: the internet.
However, the argument doesn't hold much water. The safety ratings for the 2017 Leaf aren't out yet, but the nearly identical 2016 Leaf got four-star crash ratings in every category. It also earned that rating in 2015, 2014, and 2013.

It's also worth noting that the base model leaf comes standard with front and side-impact airbags.

It's at least 475 pounds heavier than JD Power's three most popular small cars: the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Nissan Sentra.

That's more than 1.5 tons of squirrel-flattening I can do with my electric car!

Brandon: "That's not a car.. That's an oversized golf cart."

The driver's view in a Leaf.
Hey Brandon. (Great name, BTW!) As mentioned above, the car is heavier than several popular small cars. Kudos for using "oversized" in your argument, but it's actually six times the weight of a Yamaha electric golf cart. Because I'm a dweeb and I looked it up.

Also, in the comparison I ran to other popular small cars, you'll find that the Leaf has more interior space, front and rear head room, and cargo space than the other three.

And as a driver, I'll just add that the striking thing about this vehicle is that it very much feels like any other car to drive.

But if you ever go drive one, let me know if you disagree!

John: "You'd have to pay me 10k to drive an electric car"

Man, you're letting 'em off easy. They had to pay me $22.5k!

John: "Coal fired crap box."

First off, John: in America, virtually the only socially acceptable response to someone else buying a new car is: "congratulations!" But you don't know me, so I guess I don't need to expect you to be polite.

Courtesy: Xcel Energy
Leaving aside the "crap box" bit, in Colorado, it is true that my electric car is partially powered by coal.

Xcel Energy's latest figures (from 2015) show 54 percent of its Colorado electricity comes from coal, 24 percent from natural gas, and 22 percent from carbon-free sources (mostly wind.)

As stated in my story, I didn't buy this car to be an eco-warrior, I bought it because the incentives made it cheaper than a used gas-powered car.

But since you raise the issue, it's also worth noting that right now Xcel is converting the closest coal plant to Denver to natural gas, and building massive wind and solar generation facilities in Colorado because they say it's becoming cheaper to do so even without tax subsidies.